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Joseph Schillinger papers

Identifier: PIMS-0048

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  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Joseph Schillinger papers (1901-1996) contain a wide range of material related to Schillinger’s teaching career as well as personal items. The collection is organized into seven series and includes materials such as correspondence, sound recordings and films, publications, scrapbooks and clippings, photographs, drawings in pencil or crayon and other artwork, manuscript scores, and concert programs. Highlights of the collection include original drawings by Schillinger and extensive correspondence with composer Henry Cowell and his wife, Sidney Cowell.

The collection consists primarily of materials created by Joseph Schillinger but also includes documents about Schillinger and his influence assembled by his widow, Frances Schillinger Shaw, and by the former librarian of the Arthur Friedheim Library, Ned Quist, whose research notes and exhibit materials are included in series 6.


  • Creation: 1901-1996


Language of Materials

Primarily English. A few concert programs and other documents are in Russian.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for use at the Peabody Archives. Contact for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) was a Russian theorist and composer. He studied composition and conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (1914–1918), where his teachers included Nicolas Tcherepnine. He was also trained in mathematics. After the completion of his studies, he began a successful career in Kharkiv, Moscow, and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) as a teacher, administrator, and conductor. He conducted the Ukrainian Symphony Orchestra (1920–1921), served as composer for the State Academic Theatre (1925–1928), and with Leopold Teplitsky organized the first jazz band concert held in Russia (1927). Most of his compositions were written during these years. In 1928 he emigrated to the US and settled in New York, where he taught music, mathematics, art history, and his own rhythmic theories at the New School for Social Research, New York University, and Columbia University Teachers College.

During the 1920s and 1930s Schillinger developed a system of musical composition that reduced melody, harmony, and especially rhythm to geometric phase relationships. Every conceivable permutation of these relationships was "scientifically" catalogued in his theoretical writings. He extended his ideas to include issues of orchestration and the emotional and semantic aspects of music, as well as applying them to dramatic theatre, graphic design, motion pictures, and other kinetic art forms. His experiments with complex rhythms were realized on the "rhythmicon," an electronic device constructed by Lev Termen (Leon Theremin) to specifications of Henry Cowell. The Schillinger System became the basis of the course of study used for Schillinger’s private pupils, many of whom were composers and arrangers of commercial and film music. Students of the Schillinger System include Tommy Dorsey, Vernon Duke, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Oscar Levant, John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, Carmine Coppola, and Glenn Miller. Schillinger's music, apart from some classroom exercises and examples in his theoretical writings, shows no clear connections to his pedagogical system. His style is generally conservative and reflects an eclectic Russian influence. A number of songs are written under the pseudonym Frank Lynn. (Edited from "Schillinger, Joseph" in Oxford Music Online.)

Following Joseph's death in 1943, Frances Schillinger devoted herself to promoting both his legacy and his methods through publishing his work, running the Schillinger Society (in cooperation with her third husband, Arnold Shaw), and granting licenses to individuals and institutions to teach the Schillinger Method. Among those licensed was Lawrence Berk, whose institution would later become the Berklee School of Music. Frances had a diverse range of correspondents (including the photographer Richard Avedon, the musicologist Charles Seeger, and the composer Henry Cowell) and her letters reflect her untiring belief in the value of Joseph Schillinger’s work.

In the later years of her life, Frances Schillinger Shaw donated materials documenting Joseph Schillinger’s life and work to a number of cultural institutions. In addition to the Peabody Institute, Schillinger materials can be found at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress and others.

See also: Quist, Ned. "Toward a Reconstruction of the Legacy of Joseph Schillinger." Notes 58, no. 4 (June 2002): 765-786.


13.91 Cubic Feet (5 large flat boxes, 2 medium flat boxes, 1 small flat box, 8 full-size letter boxes, 1 half-size letter box, 10 full-size legal boxes, 3 full-size legal boxes, 1 half-size legal box)


Joseph Schillinger was a theorist and composer famous for developing the Schillinger System, a method of deconstructing music using geometric phase relationships. The collection contains correspondence, recordings, scrapbooks, photographs, artwork, manuscript scores, and other documents related to his professional and personal life.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Frances Schillinger Shaw in 1995 and 1998.

Existence and Location of Copies

More than 100 items from the Schillinger papers, including drawings by Schillinger and correspondence from composer Henry Cowell, are available online through the Friedheim Library's Digital Collections at

Some additional digitized items from the Schillinger papers, including a letter from Leon Theremin, can be accessed by searching the university repository, JScholarship:

Related Materials

Several published books and scores by Schillinger, including The Schillinger System of Musical Composition and The Mathematical Basis of the Arts, can be located through the library catalog. A bibliography compiled by librarian Ned Quist, The Works of Joseph Schillinger, is also available in the Friedheim Library.

Additional materials about Schillinger can be found in the Richard Benda papers, PIMS.0034.

Additional collections of Schillinger's papers can be found at the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art.

Processing Information

Processed by Wilda Heiss in 2011, Nathan Cornelius in 2016, and Kerri Sheehan in 2017.

Some materials that were removed for an exhibit in approximately 2000 have not been reprocessed according to their most logical series. There are, for example, recordings and concert programs included in the collection outside of their respective series. Some oversize items are physically separated from related material.


Guide to the Joseph Schillinger papers
Kerri Sheehan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
Series 3 edited in 2023 by Matt Testa.

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA